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Debian and Back Again [Apr. 28th, 2009|02:44 pm]

Originally published at ChrisAcheson.net. Please leave any comments there.

I decided a few days ago that Xubuntu was just too sluggish on my old, ailing laptop. I’d heard that Crunchbang was a bit faster, so I tried it out, but X just segfaulted on startup.  The same thing had happened on Xubuntu 8.10, so I’d been sticking with 8.04.  I tried Arch next, hoping that something not based on Ubuntu would fare better.

Arch seems like a neat distro, but it didn’t solve my problem with X. After much digging (including a couple sessions with gdb), I found out that the newly-rewritten PCI access code in Xorg 7.4 was trying to initialize my laptop’s broken PCMCIA hardware, causing the segfault. Someone on the #xorg-devel IRC channel also pointed out a patch that fixes the problem.  The patch did fix the segfault, but after all that fucking around, I still couldn’t get X to actually start.  Even with the basic VGA driver, it would immediately drop me back to the command line without giving any errors at all.

Yesterday, I finally gave up and decided that Arch was too bleeding-edge for my poor broken laptop.  I ended up going back to Debian, the first Linux distro that I ever used. I’d originally stopped using it because the “stable” version was too conservative (and the “unstable” and “testing” versions too prone to breakage), but in this case that seems like a good thing.

In order to keep the machine running at a decent speed, I’m just using a basic window manager in X instead of a full desktop environment.  I’m giving xmonad a try right now.  I think I’d need a higher-resolution screen to really take advantage of the “tiling window manager” concept, but I do like how it’s almost exclusively keyboard-controlled, and how it lacks space-wasting window decorations.  I’m also trying the Vimperator plugin in Firefox (or rather, Iceweasel), allowing me to cut down significantly on my mouse usage.

I still need to delve into xmonad’s configuration, set up the status bar, find a decent xterm replacement, and install ProFont.